Edwards targets jobless as debate with Cheney looms

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The Independent US

Vice-President Dick Cheney and the man who wants his job, John Edwards, were preparing yesterday for their showdown in a television debate as a new poll provided yet more cheer for Democrats.

Vice-President Dick Cheney and the man who wants his job, John Edwards, were preparing yesterday for their showdown in a television debate as a new poll provided yet more cheer for Democrats.

Mr Cheney and Mr Edwards are due to appear in what will be their only one-to-one debate of the campaign tomorrow evening in Cleveland, Ohio, one of the most crucial swing states in the presidential campaign. Republicans and Democrats realise they need to win states such as Ohio if they are to succeed in November's vote.

Delivering the Democrats' national radio address on Saturday, Mr Edwards was quick to focus on Ohio and the domestic issues that strategists believe will win votes there.

"I just spent two days in Ohio," he said. "More than 237,000 jobs have been lost. The unemployment rate in Ohio has gone up 60 per cent since George Bush took office. Health- care costs are skyrocketing. Family incomes are going down. More families are losing their homes than ever before."

He added: "The struggles people face in Ohio and the weakness in our economy are a direct result of decisions made by George Bush and Dick Cheney. And those decisions are the direct result of a vision that honours wealth and privilege rather than work and responsibility."

Many Democrats, keen to build on the momentum from last week's first debate between John Kerry and President Bush, have been looking forward to tomorrow night's contest at Case Western Reserve University, convinced that Mr Edwards, one of the most charismatic campaigners on the stump, will fare well against his more straightforward and less rousing opponent. At the same time, observers point out that Mr Cheney is hugely popular among Republican activists and can be an extremely effective communicator.

That Mr Kerry made a positive impact in Florida last week against a sometimes irritated and agitated Mr Bush received further confirmation yesterday from a poll commissioned by the Los Angeles Times that suggested the number of voters with a favourable impression of the Massachusetts senator had risen from 52 per cent to 57 per cent among registered voters.

Mr Kerry also persuaded viewers that he had the most detailed policies for the next four years: before the debate Mr Bush had a 9 per cent lead on this issue but was left trailing by four points when viewers were asked the same question after the debate had concluded.

Democrats have sought to build on their candidate's perceived success. In a new television advertisement broadcast over the weekend, Mr Kerry attempted to have the final word about their last face-off by declaring himself the winner and Mr Bush a liar. "George Bush lost the debate," an announcer says in the advert. "Now he's lying about it."

Whether Mr Kerry will be able to translate the favourable impression he created in Miami into hard votes remains unclear. A poll published over the weekend by Newsweek magazine gave the Kerry/Edwards ticket a lead of 47 to 45 points over Bush/Cheney.

If the independent Ralph Nader was not running, the lead would grow to 49 points to 46 said the poll, the results of which were within the usual margin of error. The same poll taken in September gave Mr Bush a lead of 49 points.

Although such polls will give cheer to Democrats who watched Mr Bush surge into a clear lead after the Republican convention in New York and the controversy over Mr Kerry's Vietnam record, the new figures suggest that the parties are statistically tied.

Although it seems that Mr Kerry has kept Democrats' hopes alive, the only real certainty is that this most hard-fought and often ugly campaign will be fought down to the wire.

Mr Edwards, 51, has a reputation as a youthful, charming Southerner who has led an essentially positive campaign during the Democratic primaries as well as in his effort to become vice president.

By contrast, the experienced Mr Cheney, 63, relishes the often ruthless traditional role of a vice-presidential nominee as an attack dog.

¿ Fox News has apologised for posting phony quotes said to be from Mr Kerry on its website. Carl Cameron, a Fox reporter who covers the Kerry campaign, wrote an item that looked like a news story with made-up Kerry quotes, said Paul Schur, a spokesman. The item was not intended to be posted.A statement on the site said: "We regret the error, which occurred because of fatigue and bad judgment, not malice."